A small segment of Americans nearly wiped out wolves from the states in a scorched earth plan executed in the 19th and 20th centuries. Private actors and government agents killed countless hundreds of thousands of wolves, and just hundreds managed to hang on in the boreal forests of the northeast quadrant of Minnesota.
Starting in the 1970s, federal protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) shielded these survivors. But a faction of trophy hunters and ranchers, working with their political allies, have renewed their attack as wolves very slowly reproduced and reclaimed some small portion of their original range, descendants of reintroduced wolves in Yellowstone fanned out across the Northern Rockies, and stragglers from Canada loped south and denned in habitats their forebears had long treated as home.
The killing now is as violent and ruthless as ever – with private hunters, ranchers, and trappers and state and federal agents assaulting them with body-tripping traps and snares, firearms, and packs of dogs. They don’t spare the alpha males or females or even the newborns.
If the government doesn’t restrain these people from continuing their assault, then they will leave just a smattering of dazed individuals, with survivors traumatized, their pack-mates and loved ones gone, and ecosystems void of their most crucial actors.
When humans came for wolves in the 19th century, there was no organized resistance to the 19th-century pogrom.
Today, there is resistance. This is the moment to defend the wolves.
The forebears of domesticated dogs we know so well.
The animals who provide ecological services that help forests and streams and the inhabitants who live within them.
The packs who cleanse the landscape of Chronic Wasting Disease that has surged because of our exploitation of captive deer and elk on cervid ranches.
The communities of wolves who are revered in Native American communities throughout the U.S. and who are a central player in their creation narratives.
Animal Wellness Action, the Animal Wellness Foundation, and the Center for a Humane Economy are part of a much larger effort to protect wolves across their range in the United States.
There are two key outcomes needed to prevent the elimination this year alone of perhaps 2,500 – 3,000 of the 6,000 surviving wolves in the lower 48 states: 1) an emergency re-listing of wolves under the ESA, including in the Northern Rockies, and 2) a ruling from a federal court in California to restore federal protections for wolves after the Trump Administration illegally denied them continued protections under the ESA.
Idaho, Montana, and Wisconsin Lead the Modern-Day Assault
After a brief but confusing legal fight — where the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources recommended against a winter hunt that overlaps with the mating season for wolves — state wildlife authorities turned loose trophy hunters at the end of February, just weeks after the Trump Administration removed federal protections.
Struggling to survive in a tough winter, where food is often scarce and the cold unrelenting, the wolves had no chance. With the snow facilitating the tracking and hunters allowed to chase down the animals at night, and even to use packs of hounds to pursue the animals, hunters killed at least 218 wolves in a 48-hour spasm of killing.
In Idaho and Montana, it’s going to be even worse. There, state lawmakers and governors have developed plans to reduce populations to the very edge of invisibility. Idaho may have 1,500 wolves, and they want to kill of 1,350. Montana has similar plans.
Last week, Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy joined with nearly 70 other groups, led by the Western Watershed Coalition, in supporting a formal petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct an emergency re-listing the gray wolf as an endangered species in the Idaho and Montana. That action was triggered by the plans from Idaho and Montana to nearly extirpate the wolves, building on already ruthless plans they had executed in the prior hunting seasons. In Montana, even Governor Greg Gianforte got in on the action, himself snaring a wolf during the winter trapping season on a private property just north of Yellowstone National Park as a recreational outing.
The actions of Idaho and Montana, and in Wyoming where aggressive killing plans have been in place for a while, amount to acts of serial acts of vengeance, abetted by the states, that vitiate the value of wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone more than a half century ago.
The extremism baked into these plans has even stirred some folks who supported the removal of wolves from the list of federally endangered species. Dan Ashe, who was U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director during most of the two terms served by President Obama and who supported delisting wolves throughout most of the lower 48 states, has said “the government must immediately reinstate protections” for wolves, noting that “an epidemic of cruelty toward wolves is erasing progress made to conserve this species.”
If the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducts an “emergency listing,” it should not be limited to the Northern Rockies. Wisconsin is hell bent on slaughtering more wolves. There were 27,000 people who applied for wolf-killing permits in February, with 2,000 selected by lottery for the dishonor of killing wolves, mainly with the aid of packs of dogs who attacked the wolf packs. Animal fighting preceded the shootings.
There are also a battery of lawsuits seeking to nullify the illegal action of the Trump Administration to remove federal protections for wolves.
On July 23, 2021, the Sault St. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, AWA, AWF, and the Center, along with a coalition of 14 conservation groups, many centered in the Great Lakes region, sought leave from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to submit an amicus (friend of the court) brief that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”) in removing the gray wolf from ESA protection.
The amicus brief explains how the January 2021 removal of wolves from the ESA-protected list was an illegal maneuver that causes an urgent threat to their survival across their historical range. The Trump administration acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner just before the upcoming change in administrations. A major ground for the delisting was a reliance on state-level wolf conservation plans to protect populations within each state boundary, but the coalition’s brief explains how some states have treated their newfound authority as a license to kill wolves.
We are so pleased to be working with the largest tribe east of the Mississippi River and with Earthday.org, The 06 Legacy, The Alliance For Animals, The Center for A Humane Economy, Friends of the Wisconsin Wolf and Wildlife, Good Wolf, League of Humane Voter – Wisconsin, National Wolfwatcher Coalition, Plan B To Save Wolves, SPCA International, Wolf Patrol and Wisconsin Wolf Front United urges the court to vacate the delisting rule and restore ESA protections for grey wolves across the lower 48 states. The law firm of Shartsis Friese LLP in San Francisco is handling our involvement pro bono.
Wolves Are a Boon to Ecosystems and the Economy
Trophy killing of wolves bears no resemblance to hunting for food – a purpose for hunting that many people are familiar with. Nobody eats wolves.
Wolves pose no danger to people. The occasional killing of farm animals can be effectively managed through non-lethal mitigation measures and selective control, with ranchers made whole through compensation programs.
A study out this week pointed out that wolves control deer populations and reduce the frequency of deer-auto collisions, saving human lives and reducing the economic costs of these sad and costly collisions.
Let’s face it, some state political leaders and their wildlife agencies are enabling hate crimes against wolves. They are manifesting a dark expression of our worst instincts as a species and these acts are predicated on outdated and irrational ideas toward wolves. It is a vivid example of precisely why the federal government was well-justified in shielding wolves from vengeful, politically driven actions when it listed them decades ago as protected as endangered and threatened species.
President Biden, a self-professed dog lover who reminded viewers on a recent environmental show aimed at a young audience that all domesticated canids descend from wolves, can spare these remarkable animals immense suffering with directed action. That time is here.